Adam Dircksz and workshop

Miniature Coffin
Netherlands, c. 1520
Boxwood, 6.5 x 2.4 cm

Wooden small wonders


Fire danger

Adam Dircksz’s ‘small wonders’ were probably made between 1500 and 1530 in his workshop in Delft that was then one of the most important cities in the County of Holland alongside Leiden and Haarlem. After Amsterdam, Delft was the largest city in the Low Countries; however, its was largely destroyed in a fire in 1536. Such city fires were often seen as God’s punishment of sinners. Delft was quickly rebuilt, not least of all thanks to the financial assistance of other cities und administrative bodies.

Micro carving

Warning fugacity

Faith and comfort

Since Antiquity there have been artists specialising in the carving of miniature figures and whole scenes. During the Gothic period such carvers produced miniatures in boxwood and ivory. In virtually all cases these focussed on religious topics. The advantage of these small works of art was that they could always accompany the owners on their travels. These in turn hoped the objects would provide protection and succour from evil powers and illness. Our miniature coffin was probably attached to a rosary and would have acted as a reminder of the transience of life and help strengthen its owner’s faith.

Duchy of Burgundy

House of Habsburg

Religious accessory

At the time of Adam Dircksz, the present-day Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and part of northern France belonged to the Burgundian Netherlands. Through the marriage of Mary of Burgundy with Maximilian of Austria the Duchy of Burgundy came into the possession of the House of Habsburg, with Brussels remaining the capital. Many Burgundian and Habsburg aristocrats and other wealthy citizens from the major trading cities at that time would have been among those who purchased Dircksz’s ‘small wonders’.